I wrote this during chemotherapy a few years ago, when I was experiencing insomnia as a result of the drugs.
My eyes are open in the night watches, that I might meditate upon your promise.
A manic phase is common after chemotherapy, at least the kind I had. Call me stubborn or call me stupid—I didn’t think the rules applied to me. I generally had no trouble sleeping; I’ve always claimed that eating and sleeping were my specialties. So my first experiences with chemo-induced insomnia took me by surprise.
My first response was not, “Oh, goody, I get to stay awake and meditate on God's promises!” Some people opt for sleeping pills, needing their rest, holding down jobs and families. With the luxury of working at home, I didn’t need to be fresh for eight hours at the office the next day, and only the cats depended on me at home. I determined to experience whatever chemo meant; if that included wakeful Friday nights, so be it.
I’d had insomnia before on rare occasions. It had yielded to the goddess of sleep most nights after I fixed a cup of decaf tea and some toast, then journaled. During chemo, I tried that formula again with mixed success.
Last night, though, I didn’t get up to journal. One of the [admittedly few] benefits of cancer is learning to use insomnia as prayer time. Oh, I’ll admit prayer is also a trick to induce sleep. But for however long I’m awake, I move across the country geographically, mentioning those dear to me in an east-west, north-south sweep. Sometimes I’m conscious enough to pray for national or world events. Some nights I begin by reciting memorized psalms, which do provide fodder for meditating on God. “The Lord is my shepherd” or “The Lord is my light and my salvation” are texts to ponder. The psalms have the added advantage of working well as breath prayer, inhaling on the first half of the verse, exhaling on the last half. It’s soothing, lulling. It beats fretting over the stock market.
I don’t believe God sends us cancer. I do feel that God is with us in the midst of cancer and never wastes an opportunity to draw us closer to the divine heartbeat. Praying for others and meditating on Scripture during wakeful nights is not the end, but the means—to a richer life, a deeper knowledge of ourselves and God, a way to minister to others when we’re so sick or tired that it seems we have nothing left to give. We can give our insomnia, our concern for others, our attentiveness in the night watches. That’s a lot. Enough.